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Senate questions legal teams during impeachment; Senate set to wrap up trial this weekend

President Donald Trump
Posted at 7:49 AM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 18:54:40-05

Former President Donald Trump's legal defense team rested its case and yielded the balance of its time on Friday during the impeachment trial of the former president. The team had roughly 12 more hours available to them to make their case.

This allowed senators to question the respective legal teams Friday.

Concluding questioning will allow the legal teams to deliver closing arguments and present requests for witnesses on Saturday. This all means that the Senate could vote to conclude the impeachment trial this weekend.

Attorney Bruce Castor closed out arguments for the Trump team and opened up his presentation by reminding Senators that he had encouraged his supporters to remain "peaceful and patriotic" on Jan. 6. He also alleged that Democrats' push for impeachment was a purely political attempt to keep Trump out of office in the future.

"(Democrats') goal is to eliminate a political opponent and substitute their judgment for the will of the people's," Castor said.

He also tied in his arguments to the "culture wars" and "cancel culture" — the narrative that some are being silenced over objectionable behavior or opinions.

"Are we going to allowing 'canceling,' and 'banning' and 'silencing' in this body?" Castor said.

PBS and MSNBC both reported that an attorney on Trump's legal defense team was not telling the truth when he claimed during proceedings that Trump lawyers were not given access to the newly-released footage of the Jan. 6 riots shown by House impeachment managers earlier this week.

Citing a source close to the House impeachment managers, PBS and MSNBC say that Trump's legal team had access to all the materials to which the House managers had access as per the trial rules agreed on by Republicans and Democrats.

During a presentation on Friday, attorney David Schoen claimed that Trump's team did not have access to that footage.

"Why was this footage never seen before? Shouldn't the subject of an impeachment trial, this impeachment trial of President Trump, have the right to see the so-called new evidence against him?" he asked.

President Donald Trump's legal defense team argued that he could not have incited the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol because as an elected official he is entitled to protected political speech.

Attorney Michael van der Veen argued that removing Trump on the basis of inciting an insurrection would be a violation of his First Amendment rights.

He also argued that Trump did not directly order his supporters to storm the Capitol during his address on Jan. 6, and was only speaking in hypotheticals.

"The reality is, Mr. Trump was not in any way, shape or form instructing these people to fight or use physical violence," van der Veen said. "What he was instructing them to do was to challenge his opponents in primary elections, to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold 'big tech' responsible — all customary, and legal, ways to petition your government for redress of grievances, which of course is also protected constitutional free speech."

Democrat impeachment managers rejected that point in their arguments this week and showed clips of supporters who claimed they believed they were at the Capitol at the invitation of Trump.

In his opening statements, van der Veen called the charge an "appalling abuse of the Constitution" and that the article "only further divides our nation when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities."

Van der Veen later pointed to Trump's positioning during the 2020 election as a candidate for "law and order," and implied that some Democratic lawmakers were guilty of impeachable offenses for their rhetoric last summer amid nationwide protests against police brutality. He also pointed to Democrats' claim that the attack on the Capitol was "pre-meditated" as evidence to Trump's evidence.

"You can't incite what is already pre-meditated," van der Veen said.

But the presentation was tinged with some falsehoods.

Trump lawyers claimed without evidence that one of those arrested in connection with the riots was a member of Antifa. Lawyers also presented a lengthy video that purported to show that Trump's use of the term "fight like hell" during his Jan. 6 speech was not a call to violence. The video was a supercut of Democrats using the word "fight" during interviews and speeches, but lawyers failed to acknowledge the context in which Trump used the term.

While Trump’s lawyers faced an uphill battle in matching the evidence presented by Democrats on Wednesday and Thursday, their performance won’t likely affect the outcome of the trial. As Trump remains extremely popular in the Republican party, the Senate will likely fall well short of reaching the two-thirds needed to convict Trump when the final tally is taken early next week.

For the previous two days, House impeachment managers have used Trump’s own speeches and tweets to tie him to the violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. They say Trump began planting the seeds of baseless claims of voter fraud in early 2020 which he helped sprout when it became clear he had been defeated by Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, Democrats said that Trump continued to peddle conspiracy theories about voter fraud even as his legal avenues for challenging the results ran out. They said that after he was unable to personally pressure several state election officials to personally overturn the results, he saw Jan. 6 as a last-ditch effort to remain in power.

“President Donald J. Trump ran out of non-violent options to remain in power,” impeachment manager Ted Lieu said Wednesday.

Wednesday’s testimony also featured disturbing, never-before-seen footage of the riots, some of which showed violent Trump supporters mere feet away from lawmakers who scrambled to get out of the way.

On Thursday, Democrats argued that political violence could escalate should Trump be acquitted. They argued that should Trump be permitted to seek higher office in the future, he could orchestrate a similar incident in the future.

"Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin asked Thursday. “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that?"